The story of Saturday night's 87-79 victory over the Warriors will surely be the defensive performance of the Spurs. The Spurs held the Warriors to under 20 points in three out of four quarters. More importantly, they held Steph Curry to 14 points on 4 for 18 from the field and 1 for 12 from three. The Warriors as a whole shot a porous 25% from beyond the arc. The Spurs ability to run Curry off the line by switching their bigs onto him was riveting to watch and will be a blueprint moving forward.
And as dominant a defensive effort as it was, what stood out was Popovich's ability to exploit deficiencies in his opponent on the offensive end. He's been incredible on this homestand at just that.
Previously, I took a look at how Patty Mills attacked Enes Kanter off a pick and roll which forced Randy Foye to help and left David West wide open for a mid-range jumper. Then I examined the way Boris Daw posted up Cole Alrdrich, forcing Chris Paul to help which led to an open Leonard. Finally, a 1-3 pick and roll got Kawhi Leonard posting on the smaller Lillard which had Portland scrambling, and Duncan got open for a slam. In all of these examples the Spurs made teams pay for personnel choices.
Saturday night was no different as the Spurs pounded the ball inside. With Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezeli, and Andre Iguadola all injured, there was nobody who could guard the Spurs frontline. LaMarcus Aldridge had 26 points and 13 rebounds, Kawhi Leonard had 18 points and 14 rebounds, and Boris Diaw, starting in the place of Tim Duncan, had 14 points and 8 rebounds. The Spurs dominated in the paint and on the glass, out-rebounding the Warriors 53-37.
Here, Aldridge takes advantage of one-on-one coverage against Draymond Green by bumping into him, rising up, and putting in the easy left-hand hook. Green's effort is admirable, but he can't provide the same presence that Ezeli and Bogut could:
— J.R. Wilco (@jollyrogerwilco) March 20, 2016
With just under two minutes remaining, the Warriors were still within three. The Spurs went back to Aldridge on the block:
Here, the Warriors try Harrison Barnes on Aldridge and have Green on Diaw. Barnes is strong and agile but simply does not have the height to rise up with Aldridge. The Warriors didn't have the bodies to put on him Saturday, and the Spurs took advantage accordingly.
The most savvy move of the night was Pop's decision to start Boris Diaw over Tim Duncan. With the Warriors starting Curry, Thompson, Rush, Barnes, and Green due to injuries, Duncan would have been forced to guard on the perimeter. Rather than go to Ginobili, Anderson, or another wing player, Pop elected to start a second big in order to have a huge size advantage on the offensive end. While it wasn't perfect, Diaw provided more defensive flexibility without surrendering the Spurs low-post presence. Diaw abused Harrison Barnes which likely impacted Barnes on the offensive end as he had a quiet 8 points on 3 of 10 shooting. Here, the Warriors elect not to help, and Diaw prods Barnes, drives right, and finishes with the easy lay-in:
This is no-frills one-on-one basketball. Later in the game, the Warriors are unable to adjust to the Spurs' size, and you see Barnes left alone on Diaw again:
As Diaw works Barnes on the baseline, Maurice Speights shows mildly, but can't leave West. Again, the underrated brilliance of David West. West hovers on the opposite low block, preventing Speights from the strong side help.
When Bogut and Ezeli are back, it won't be this easy to score inside. And yet, if the Spurs can force Bogut and Ezeli to play big minutes, that means less time for the Warriors "Small Ball Death Squad" (Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguadola, Green). When the Warriors do go to this lineup, the Spurs appear to have an answer, using a more versatile Diaw instead of Duncan. I expect them to use David West as well as a counter moving forward.
Pop found a way to guard the Warriors small ball lineup while staying big. Not to mention Duncan's willingness to come off the bench for just 8 minutes. That doesn't happen on other teams. While Steve Kerr tries to figure out what went wrong for Curry and Thompson, he should be just as worried about handling the Spurs' bigs moving into round 3 on April 7th.